Thursday, July 2, 2009

Modified 'North Maitland Centre of Excellence' approved

The Clinton News-Record (a weekly) posted this story Thursday coming out of the Avon Maitland District School Board's final meeting of the school year last week.
Trustees approved the closure and consolidation of five schools in northern Huron County and the construction of a new 'super school' to house all JK-6 students from four of the schools and some of the students from the fifth school.
Huron East/Central Huron trustee Shelley Kaastra, who also once fought to save a rural school, was in tears as she expressed her support for the recommendation. But (Stratford trustee Meg) Westley was clearly the most vocal supporter.
"There has also been the suggestion that we haven’t listened. I would like to suggest that we certainly have,” the board’s past-chairman continued. “We do appreciate your concerns. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we do what you want us to do . . . but I have seen the staff recommendation change and morph as a result of the input from the community.”
The conclusion of this particular accommodation review provides an opportunity to highlight how constructive it has been to the process and how a community can respond and achieve some of its desires. It was the community that recommended one single school to house all students through the accommodation review process, an idea board staffers latched on to as they revised their recommendations through the last year.
The community (its blog is a fascinating read) wanted the school to be a JK-8, not JK-6, due to its concerns and opposition to turning F.E. Madill in Wingham into a 7-12 high school.
“All they’ve done now is increase the animosity between the community and board,” (Mark Beaven, a community member who served on the board-mandated public-consultation committee) said to reporters, outside the building.
In his delegation to the board, Beaven called on trustees to defer the decision until September 2009, in order to gather further information about funding possibilities for a Kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school. This is the option being promoted by what’s known as the “Hot Stove Group,” consisting largely of community-based members of the now-disbanded public consultation committee.
Trustees, however, remain wary of administrative staff’s advice that the promised $8.8 million in Local Priorities funding from the provincial Education Ministry also comes with strings attached: that any new construction must provide a solution for excess space - only projected to increase - at F.E. Madill.
Let's not lose the point here however-- a community rejected a status-quo or consensus 'keep everything open' recommendation during its accommodation review and pitched and supported an idea that had enough merit to garner board support and funding from the Ministry of Education. This storyline should be mandatory reading for all trustees and accommodation review committee members.


Anonymous said...

It's also a useful example of what community consultation actually means - boards and their staffs working with community groups to get information and opinions that then inform decision making. When things break down is when people think that consultation gives communities the right to make the decisions...or when consultation doesn't actually inform the decisions made. This board has clearly done a very good job of doing good consultation and using it well.

Robert Hunking said...

It sounds like anonymous is s school board trustee.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ anon. 19:28

The provincial guidelines have been panned soundly after the reviews last year in this same board. Suggestions for improvement were offered in an evaluation session held by the board...some were taken..others ignored.

I think the fact that the trustees are wary of the $8.8million should make the Hot Stove Group worry a bit about just what's up the sleeve of the gov't re: funding.

I also think it wise that the board wait on this because the move of Gr. 7 & 8 kids in rural schools isn't as easy as it may be in the city or larger centres.

I personally do not think that either the trustees or the North Huron ARC should depend on the funding numbers as they currently stand. Would these numbers also include funding for the gov't's new full-day Kindergarten?

Education Reporter said...

Anon 15:58:
Funding is fluid, as you've mentioned. It's up to the AMDSB to show the ministry where it will draw other funds from as part of is capital liquidity template (search this blog for a post that explains that term).
As to the early learning / full-day kindergarten spaces, boards must include these spaces when doing any new expansions or construction-- that's been ministry policy for over a year now. So the new school will be built with full-day kindergarten in mind.

Anonymous said...

The illusion though is that all went well with the board using the provincial guidelines. It didn't, and as I understand it the Hot Stove Group is looking to appeal the decision based on the fact that they believe the board changed the terms of reference mid-way through the process and never did include moving the 7&8 kids to the Wingham high school.
It's not over by a long-shot.
Stay tuned.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 8:23:
I do hope the petitioners are aware there is no appeal of the decision itself-- only a petitioned review of the process undertaken. If it's accepted by the ministry, the minister appoints a reviewer (usually Dave Cooke or Joan... her last name escapes me right now). S/he meets with everyone, speaks to everyone and then writes a report telling the board what it could have done better. There is no changing this decision through review-- unless you have funds at your disposal and wish to mount a court challenge.

Anonymous said...

Joan Greene

Yes, they know.

This is one very intelligent ARC and community with money and lawyers. Should be interesting.